Described by those who knew him as one of the Hunter's last true-blue publications, the unexpected loss of local hotelier Michael Leis has devastated the Newcastle hotel industry.
Hunter hoteliers will this week farewell one of their own, after the sudden passing of industry veteran Michael (Mick) Leis.
Well known for his role as an industry leader, Mick was a mentor and sounding board for many local hoteliers and played a pivotal role in the success of numerous hotels across Newcastle and the Hunter.
Having found his start as a hotelier at the Stag and Hunter Hotel at Mayfield under the mentorship of industry stalwart and Australian Hotels Association life member Alan Moyle, it wasn't long before Mick was handed the reins of the pub, which he took from strength to strength.
"Originally Mick was working in the bottle shop at one of our pubs, the old Bushwacker Tavern. He was still in his initial banking role at the Newcastle Permanent then and he worked for us at night. The hotel is called Lake Macquarie Tavern now of course, but at the time his wife Jo worked there as well and when we bought the Stag and Hunter we put them in together as managers. That was his first hotel management job," Alan said.
"Mick was a very talented bloke and I was never concerned at all about it being his first time managing a pub. He was in that role for three years and then we sold him a bonded lease for another three years and that really gave him his first fore into running a hotel for himself. He did a great job which I always knew he would. He was a good bloke who ran a good pub and didn't take any nonsense. He was just one of those real, true-blue publicans, part of the community and always onsite engaging with patrons. You don't get to see that much anymore. He was one of the last real publicans."
He was just one of those real, true blue publicans, part of the community and always onsite engaging with patrons. You don't get to see that much anymore. He was one of the last real publicans..."
Keen to expand his role within the hotel industry, Mick later joined forces with childhood friend Brian McDermott in a business partnership that would see them together take on the Lakeside Village Tavern at Raymond Terrace.
"Mick and I had known each other since we were kids growing up in the Waratah Mayfield area and playing junior football together," Brian said.
"When he first left the Newcastle Permanent it was around the same time that I moved into the hotel industry as well. He was at the Stag and Hunter and I was at the Town Hall Waratah and for two decades we bounced ideas off each other. Eventually we went into business together at the Lakeside Village Tavern at Raymond Terrace.
"At the conclusion of that partnership he remained a source of council for me and was just a great bloke to talk to. He was very respected within both the community and the industry and often when people would ask me something I'd tell them to run it by Mick Leis first.
"In fact, anything he was involved in somehow he'd end up on the committee. Even when he and Jo later moved to an over 55s estate we all joked around asking if he was on the committee yet. He said it would never happen, but sure enough two weeks later he was on the committee. When the residents went out it was in a courtesy bus Mick had kept from one of the hotels and there he was driving everyone around. He was a very community minded person. That's just who he was."
"When the residents went out it was in a courtesy bus Mick had kept from one of the hotels and there he was driving everyone around. He was a very community minded person. That's just who he was..."
Prior to his retirement, Mick was the driving force behind the Argenton Hotel and then the Hotel Delany before finally deciding to leave the industry earlier this year.
"After the Delany he said to me 'that's it, I'm going to have a hip and knee replacement so I'll be right for golf and bowls', then next thing you know he's on the board of the Lowlands Bowling Club. It was typical Mick and I don't think anyone was surprised," Brian said.
"He was just very organised and very smart and within a group he could get the best out of everyone. He instinctively knew what needed to be done to make things better and had a way of articulating his ideas that made people listen and want to follow his lead. This is a great loss for everyone who knew him."
Mick was 59 years old.
A service for Mick will be held at 10am on Wednesday, 22 August at Newcastle Town Hall with a reception to be held afterward at Lowlands Bowling Club, Cooks Hill.